Layoffs loom at ABS-CBN by August if broadcast not resumed

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
Layoffs loom at ABS-CBN by August if broadcast not resumed
A guard passes logo of ABS-CBN at the network’s compound, a day it was ordered shut by National Telecommunications Commission, May 6, 2020.
The STAR / Michael Varca

MANILA, Philippines — Embattled media giant ABS-CBN Corp. may have to start laying off some of its 11,000 staff by August if it can't resume its free channel broadcast operations soon, putting at risk jobs at a time the coronavirus outbreak is displacing thousands of workers in the country.

At Tuesday's Senate panel hearing tackling the renewal of the network's franchise, Carlo Katigbak, company president and chief executive, told lawmakers that ABS-CBN's top priority now is to "return on air as quickly as possible" so it can generate revenues and keep their workers employed and paid.

"We continue to lose substantial amount of money and I'm afraid if we cannot go back on air soon, by August we may already have to consider beginning a retrenchment process," Katigbak said.

The company, including its subsidiaries, has 11,071 employees as of last year, labor department data showed.

It's been two weeks since ABS-CBN was last seen and listened to on air through its free TV and radio channels before it was shut down by the National Telecommunications Commission due to an expired franchise. The network asked the Supreme Court to allow it to reopen, all while Congress is deliberating a provisional franchise that will see the network resume operations until October.

Franchise deliberations had been delayed by legislators at the Lower House, where House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has repeatedly said to hold "impartial" franchise hearings, without ever designating a specific date. At the Senate, the Tuesday's hearing was conducted ahead of the transmittal of the franchise bill from the Lower House.

Despite the firm's closure, ABS-CBN promised to keep their employees over the next three months. "But unfortunately, we cannot make that commitment open-ended because we are also limited by financial constraints," Katigbak told senators.

Last Friday, the Lopez-led media company told the stock exchange that the halt of free TV operations will "significantly impact" its media, networks and studio entertainments (MNSE) operations, which generate 68% of revenues from free-to-air advertising.

Overall, free-to-air advertising accounted for nearly half of the company's consolidated revenues as of the third quarter of 2019, financial statements showed.

Shares of ABS-CBN Corp. declined for the second straight day since resuming trading on Monday. The company's stock price closed P15.88 apiece on Tuesday, down from P16.01 on Monday.

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